Professionalism/Ikigai at Work

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Introducution[edit | edit source]

Ikigai is a Japanese concept that roughly translates to “a reason for being” or "something that gives life worth". The term comes from the combination of two Japanese words; iki meaning life or "the condition of being alive", and kai meaning a reason, value, or benefit. Although the concept is mainly used in Japan, it has recently gained exposure in other countries such as the United States. One popular English interpretation of Ikigai revolves around the combination of doing what you love, what you are good at, what the world needs, and what you can be paid for. Each of these four components are equally important in creating a sense of Ikigai under the English interpretation. Without one, the concepts breaks apart into something less holistic. For example, doing something that the worlds needs and something that you can be paid for would be considered a vocation under this interpretation.

Clinical psychologist Akihiro Hasegawa of Toyo Eiwa University claims that the term dates back to the Heian Period of Japan which spanned from 794 to 1185. Hasegawa also contends that the popular English interpretation is widely inaccurate. He states that many Japanese people do not associate Ikigai with making money or working at all. The Japanese interpretation of Ikigai more commonly revolves around factors such as personal and family health, intellectual activeness, and fulfilling social roles. While these factors can often include working in some sort of way, the concept of Ikigai for Japanese people is not directly related to work.[1]

One of the most comprehensive and respected works dealing with Ikigai is Ikigai-ni-tsuite, or About Ikigai, written by Mieko Kamiya. In her book, Kamiya explains that the concept of Ikigai is very similar to happiness but has a subtle focus on looking towards the future. As a result, someone who is struggling towards a better life in the future can still be within a state of Ikigai even though they may be unhappy at the moment. Kamiya also breaks down Ikigai into two subcategories. The first is objects that make up one's Ikigai. This includes the various people, actions, or objects that directly relate to the feelings of Ikigai that one has. The second category is feelings regarding one's Ikigai object. One example using these two subcategories could be one's family and friends as an Ikigai object and a sense of existence and belonging as the feeling regarding this object.

Ikigai Practices in the Workplace[edit | edit source]

Rajio Taiso[edit | edit source]

In Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles (2017), they examined how the people of Okinawa Japan exercise Ikigai to increase their life expectancy. Okinawans, who are known for their many centenarians, state that moving throughout the day, no matter how little, is essential for staying healthy. Garcia and Miralles contend that Rajio Taiso is a key component of Okinawans' daily movement.

Rajio Taiso roughly translates to "Radio Physical exercise" or physical exercise over the Radio. These Radio exercises were introduced in Japan in 1928 as a commemoration of emperor Hirohito’s coronation. The broadcasts consist of short warm-up exercises guided by music and radio hosts. Although the broadcasts were banned by occupying powers for being too militaristic in nature after Japan’s defeat in WW2, they were later reintroduced in 1951 after several reworks. Currently, these routines are used in the workplace at the beginning of the workday, in order to raise energy levels and encourage good health. Additionally, the group aspect of the exercises can help build moral and group unity among employees.

Nomikai[edit | edit source]

Nomikai can be roughly translated to "gathering to drink." Nomikais are drinking parties that are held by employers to mark various events from project completions, foundation anniversaries, retirements, etc. They are usually held in restaurants that have been partially rented out. Employees are expected to attend; however, they are not required to drink. Nomikai usually involve certain departments of a company, although larger full company parties can also take place.[2]

The party doesn't stop there. After Nomikai, comes Nijikai. Nijikai is basically an after party where attendance is not required and is usually smaller groups of friends who want to keep socializing and drinking. Lastly there is Bonenkai. Bonenkai, or "gathering to forget the year", is the end of year Nomikai of a company where the goal is to forget any arguments or troubles that have occurred during the year and celebrate the coming year.[2]

Overall, the purpose of these parties is to help build post-work relationships and camaraderie among employees in addition to celebrating events. Lastly, and probably most importantly, you must show up to work the next day. The excuse that you got too drunk at the party will not be accepted by your boss.

While the purported goal of the events is to build camaraderie, the practice has led to unhealthy behavior in many cases. Timinsky notes that salarymen began to engage in the practice regularly in the 1950s, and the practice led many to alcoholism, malnourishment, and sleep deprivation.[3] The lifestyle of nightly drinking bouts among salarymen became so commonplace that drug companies marketed hangover drugs to these professionals by exploiting fears about hangovers and work.[4]

Lifetime Hiring[edit | edit source]

Lifetime hiring is where Japanese companies and employees agree to an unofficial for life contract. Where the employee promises to devote themselves to the company and the company promises to try their best not to fire them.

Beginning in Japan around 1955, many Japanese firms started hiring their employees for life. Although this was not a legally binding contract for lifetime employment it came with certain expectations.[5] The employer expected that the new hire would devote their time and loyalty to the company while the hire would expect the employer to take all measures possible to avoid firing or laying off employees. As a result, employees hired under the unofficial lifetime employment practice could feel a sense of economic security and trust with their employer.

Simultaneous College Recruiting[edit | edit source]

Simultaneous recruiting of new graduates is a Japanese custom where companies look to hire new college or high school graduates all at once and begin their employment at a collective start date. One goal of this custom is to help new hires adjust to the workforce by surrounding them with people of a similar age and experience level. Paired with lifetime employment practices, SCR allows employees to build deep and lifelong relationships with their peers, increasing their productivity and satisfaction within the workplace.

Ikigai and Working Conditions[edit | edit source]

It has been shown that having an Ikigai can increase quality of life and even reduce the risk of death from cardiovascular disease.[6] Companies have implemented Ikigai practices to capitalize on increased productivity and success due to worker satisfaction.[7] However, the companies may also implement the practices to distract workers from the poor working conditions to which they are subject.

Japanese professionals work longer hours and more overtime hours than many other countries. A survey by Matthews found that while work is often at the center of Japanese society, "very few informants, even the most successful, seemed to find profound satisfaction in work".[8] According to a poll of 451 Japanese professionals, over 54% of them "often" work overtime hours.[9] Studies have shown that those workers who work more overtime hours are more susceptible to cardiovascular problems.[10][11]

Japanese workers are reluctant to use paid vacation days. In 2018, it was found that only 52% of professionals used all of their paid vacation,[12] and many had multiple unused days. A form of Groupthink [13] occurs where employees see that their bosses and coworkers refuse to take vacation days, so they fear that taking days will cause their colleagues to think less of them.[14]

An unfortunate consequence of the culture of overwork in Japan is Karoshi, or death from overwork. Numerous professionals have been lost by Karoshi since the first official case in 1969. One such case was that of Matsuri Takahashi, a 24 year-old worker at Dentsu, Inc. During her eight months at Dentsu, she logged hundreds of overtime hours. She began making disturbing posts on social media and committed suicide shortly after.[15] Miwa Sado was a 31 year-old political journalist who died from heart failure in July 2013. In the previous month, she had logged 159 hours of overtime.[16] In 2005, Shunichi Araki, the President of the National Institute of Industrial Health, wrote an article that recognized the connection between overwork, brain and heart diseases and death, and made suggestions for the Japanese government to reduce the occurrence of overwork.[17] The Japanese government has created legislation to decrease overwork, but some argue that more must be done.[18]

In the 1970s, Japanese public transportation could not meet the growing demand due to economic growth. Oshiyas, or passenger pushers, were hired to pack as many commuters as possible into each train car at rail stations. The rail cars regularly reach two to three times the designed capacity. Publications have described the experience as uncomfortable,[19] but the situation can become dangerous, as it did in a case where a window broke from the pressure due the packed cabin.[20]

Tanshin funin, which translates to "bachelor husband," is the practice of living in away from one's family to live closer to one's business and to focus more effectively on one's work. These professionals may only see their families on weekends or holidays. Studies have shown that professionals who engage in Tanshin funin are more susceptible to heart disease and common illnesses, drink alcohol in higher quantities, and are generally more stressed than those who abstain from the practice.[21]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Kemp, N. (2019, Nov 20). Ikigai According To Professor Akihiro Hasegawa. The Ikigai Podcast.
  2. a b Madelaine. (2018, July 27). Complete Guide to Nomikai. KiMi.
  3. Timinsky, S. (2019, May 15). The nation that never rests: Japan's debate over work-life balance and work that kills. Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 17, issue 10, No. 2
  4. Alexander, J. (2015, Jun 23). Medicating the salaryman lifestyle: fear-based marketing of liver stimulant drugs in postwar Japan. Japan Forum, Vol. 27, No. 2 (134-166).
  5. Koshiro, K. (1984). Lifetime Employment in Japan: Three Models of the Concept. Monthly Labor Review, 107(8), 34.
  6. Eguchi, E., Iso, H., Ogino, K., Tamakoshi, A., Yasukawa, S. (2018, May). "Ikigai", Subjective wellbeing, as a modifier of the parity-cardiovascular mortality association- The Japan Collaborative Cohort Study. Circulation Journal, Vol. 82, issue 5 (1302-1308). (Web of Science)
  7. Bakker, A., Leiter, M., Schaufeli, W., Taris, T. (2008, Jul). Work engagement: an emerging concept in occupational health psychology. Work & Stress, Vol. 22, No. 3. (187-200). (Academic Search Complete).
  8. Matthews, G. (1996). The Pursuit of a life worth living in Japan and the United States. Ethnology. Vol 35, No. 1. (51-62). (JSTOR)
  9. What Japan Thinks. (2010). Nine in ten Japanese workers do overtime
  10. Liu, Y. & Tanaka, H. (2002, Jul 1). Overtime work, insufficient sleep, and risk of non-fatal acute myocardial infarction in Japanese men. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Vol. 59, no. 7. (447-451).
  11. Hisanga, N., Iwasaki, K., Oka T., Sasaki, T. (1999, Aug 31). Association of working hours with biological indices related the cardiovascular system among engineers in a machinery manufacturing company. Industrial Health, Vol. 37, No. 4. (457-463).
  12. Demetriou, D. (2020, Jan 17). How the Japanese are putting an end to extreme work weeks. BBC.
  13. Janis, I. (1972). Victims of groupthink: A psychological study of foreign-policy decisions and fiascoes. Houghton Mifflin.
  14. Martin, A. (2017, Dec 12). Japanese workers feel guilty taking time off and use fewer holidays than their international peers: survey. Japan Times.
  15. Jozuka, E. & Wakatsuki, Y. (2016, Nov 30). Death by Overwork: Pressure Mounts on Japan to Act. CNNMoney.
  16. McCurry, J. (2017, Oct 5). Japanese woman 'dies from overwork' after logging 159 hours of overtime in a month.The Guardian.
  17. Araki, S. & Iwasaki, K. (2005, Feb). Death due to overwork (Karoshi): Causation, health service, and life expectanacy of Japanese males. Japanese Medical Assoication, Vol. 48, No.2 (92-98).
  18. Morioka, R & North, S. (2016, Oct 28). Hope found in lives lost: karoshi and the pursuit of worker rights in Japan. Contemporary Japan, Vol. 28, No. 1 (59-80).
  19. Said-Moorhouse, L. (2012, Oct 29). How to Survive Tokyo's Subway Sandwich. CNN.
  20. Nyan, E. (2014, Nov 20). Filled to the bursting point? Rush hour crush on Tokyo subway leaves train with broken window. SoraNews24.
  21. Matsubara, T., Nakadaira, H., Yamamoto, M. (2005, Nov 30). Mental and physical effects of tanshin funin, posting without family, on married male workers in Japan. Journal of Occupational Health. Vol 48. (113-123).